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5 Tasty, Low-Risk Foraged Foods

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
July 14, 2014

Oh, hey. Do you like long walks in the woods, eating gooey s’mores by the fire, and making a meal out of whatever you can hunt, fish, or catch with your bare hands? Well, welcome to Camping Week, featuring tastier ways to get your outdoors on. 

Gif credit: Disney

Steve “Wildman” Brill may hail from New York City, but he’s been foraging food across these 50 great states for the last 22 years. (His first haul? Grape leaves, plucked from the wilds of Queens county. Don’t judge.)

Today Brill is the author of four books, has launched two Wild Edibles apps (one free, one $7.99), and plans a futuristic version of his app identifying plants based on smell. These days he (adorably) leads tours of the woods with his daughter, Violet, age 10. 

Any former Girl or Boy Scout knows it’s dangerous to just pluck a berry off a bush or grab a random green and stuff it in your mouth (hello, poison ivy!) So proceed with caution and only sample something if you’re quite sure it’s safe: Brill’s app is a good starting point, but it, too features the caveat that there are some poisonous wild edibles out there!

There’s also a whole world of tasty stuff. We asked Brill for his top five low-risk foraged finds (read: wild plants that don’t have poisonous doppelgängers) around America, all of which are listed on his free, photo-and-cooking-tip-packed app, and most of which are available between spring and fall.

And they’re delicious, to boot. Click on the plant’s name for a good-looking recipe using it. 


Illustration credit: "Wildman" Steve Brill

There’s a reason Brill named his daughter after these royal beauties. Violets are “delicious, and you can eat both the leaves and flowers.” Look for heart-shaped, serrated leaves, two-sided flowers, and bushy stamens “that look like a beard in the middle!” Brill likes them in salads, soups, rice and grain dishes, and even a violet saag paneer (!), the recipe for which is in his Wild Vegan cookbook.


Illustration credit: "Wildman" Steve Brill

"Easy to recognize," this white, five-petaled flower has petals "split like the letter ‘V’ so it looks like 10 petals." It has a "little row of hairs growing on the stem," too. Put chickweed in a salad, sauté it, steam it, or pop it into a pesto. The crazy thing about it? “It tastes like corn on the cob,” says Brill. (File under News To Us.)


Photo credit: "Wildman" Steve Brill

This relative to spinach should be used in the same way, whether sautéed, left green and bright in soups, or tossed into salads. It has a similar-looking sibling that smells “resinous,” says Brill, so look for one that “has no odor,” and take a close look at the shape of the leaf, ensuring it’s not epazote.

Wood Sorrel

Photo credit: StockFood / Pranschke, Rafael

"Very delicious, and tastes like lemonade!" exclaims Brill. Wood sorrel emerges at the end of spring, and has "three leaves so people confuse it with clover, but these leaves [as opposed to clover] are heart-shaped." "Use leaves, flowers, and seed pods," says Brill. It’s "especially good in salads, and if you cook with it you need a lot, as its flavor diminishes.” So stick to raw, as it will “spark up an entire salad.”


Photo credit: StockFood / Siffert, Hans-Peter

A plant with a “thick, succulent stem,” says Brill, purslane is “easy to recognize.” It’s “incredible in soups, you can pickle its stems, and it has a sweet-and-sour flavor.” Purslane is, like many wild eats, an “ideal salad vegetable, wonderful in casseroles, and holds together in soups.” In short, says Brill, there’s “almost nothing you can’t do.”

So there you go. Happy nibbling, and tell Bambi we said “hi.”